There’s nothing more exciting than watching your rod double over as a barbel grabs your hook bait and powers off into the river. The incredibly hard-fighting species resides in a huge number of rivers around the country and provides many anglers with great sport throughout the year.
During the cooler months of December through until March, this species of fish will be at a bigger weight as they gear up for spawning. Catching barbel in the cold is not an easy task, and many anglers have spent a long time targeting them over winter with very little to show for their efforts, however, with some careful thinking you could keep your catch rate steady throughout the year.
Keeping a close eye on the weather and the river conditions will increase your chances of catching a fish. If you turn up to a river when the level is rising after an influx of cold rain, snow or sleet you will probably blank – that drop in temperature puts the fish right off. With this in mind then, try to time your session to coincide with the river starting to drop from its peak height; that way there’s also less rubbish in the water to catch on your lines and pull your rigs out of position.
Ade says to:
"When seeking barbel in the winter try to fish whenever possible with the river water temperature either steady or if possible rising, the rise only needs to be slight even a couple of tenths of a degree centigrade is enough to trigger a feeding spell.
A handheld digital Thermometer with a probe to measure outside temperature is very handy, if not l keep an eye on the weather forecast or use the internet to find river conditions.
Rising water temps are normally triggered by low air pressure and with winds from the south or westerly direction, this will normally bring mild weather with plenty of rain, ideal for a winter barbel."
Also be sure to look after yourself in these cold, brutal conditions!
Ade warns that; "Riverbanks can be very slippery, so take extra care, consider one of the self-inflating life jackets for extra safety. Also, make sure to use warm waterproof clothing and footwear with a good grip for safety."
Check out our Winter guides here.
As with any type of fishing that you do, locating the fish before you start fishing is key to increasing your catching. You may only get one chance of a bite in the cold weather so you need to find some fish or areas that will hold fish.
Ade suggests that flooded rivers with smooth-running water are best:
"In flooded rivers look for areas of steady flow, look for smooth water running at fast walking pace, avoid areas where the surface is boiling or has whirlpools, fish avoid those areas.
Be aware barbel will often pick up a bait almost instantly in floodwater, my record is a bite and hooked barbel in less than 20 seconds!"
Also, spend time walking the river and speaking to anglers that fish the stretch. Often these will lead you to some likely swims that hold fish. Ade suggests barbel anglers should "keep mobile, give each swim up to 1.5 hours and move on if you don’t catch."
Areas that hold barbel in the warmer months will often also hold fish in the cooler periods. Obstructions in the water, overhanging trees and creases in the river will all be worth targeting. Overhanging trees are a magnet for fish and by fishing upstream of them you can pull the fish up to your rig with the smell of your bait.
If you’re after a large fish on a river with a low stock of barbel you should prepare yourself for a few blank sessions or opt for venues with a larger stock of barbel will naturally give you a better chance of catching one.
Any barbel fishing will properly test your fishing tackle as these strong fish can really pull back. Barbel also like to live around rocks, branches and other obstructions that can cause all manner of problems for anglers. For these reasons you need to use gear that will allow you to safely extract the fish from their home.
There’s no point in fishing light – raging floodwater, heavy leads and strong fish will make light work of inadequate tackle, leaving you with your head in your hands having just lost the fish of your dreams.
Barbel and specialist rods with a 2lbs backbone are especially helpful when the water is high. Its best paired with size 6000, free spin reels.
You also need a mainline that is tough and has high abrasion resistance, otherwise, you could get cut off by an underwater obstacle.
Unfortunately for barbel, the shape of their mouths lends them perfectly to hooks not coming off. For this reason, a simple running rig is best.
A Running Rig stops tangles and is great paired with a 3ft hook link of braid and a size 8 Specimen hook connected using a knotless knot. This rig is strong, simple and deadly effective.
Choosing your lead size depends on the flow of the water when you get to the river. Most often, using between 2oz and 4oz is ideal, but don’t be afraid to go higher if you need it.
Winter fish aren’t going to be very willing to feed, so a big bed of bait will probably put the barbel off and move them out of your swim. Try to create is the maximum attraction with minimum feed. Barbel are very inquisitive and, as in other fishing, such as for big bream or big carp, many anglers use a bright bait.
"In clear water and colder winter conditions, often just a single small high flavoured bait with minimum feed will result in a fish.", says Ade.
Picking a bait with lots of smell and flavour leaking into the river is guaranteed to increase your chances of bagging a winter barbel. The smell travelling off downstream will help to pull fish upstream and into your hook-bait area – where hopefully they’ll slip up.
"In high river conditions use larger baits, cheesy garlic is my favourite of all winter baits, spicy sausage is also good.
Alternatively, in lower temperature with clearer water conditions barbel have a sweet tooth so creamy caramel flavours are good, Sonubaits F1 has caught me many barbel in winter.
Use very sticky and high flavoured attractor, small and fluffy baits will get washed away in the heavy flow."
Some anglers like to use different baits on their two rods, with both choices boasting a very strong smell that should tempt barbel into the area.
You could also opt for a PVA bag of extremely smelly pellets along with a couple of crushed boilies. This delivers that high-attraction, low-feed, ideal for cold water conditions.